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The Tin House Winter Workshop……

Throughout the next few posts, I will share my experiences at the writing workshops I’ve attended this year. (Spoiler alert – they were all really good and if you are a writer, you’ll want to know about each one.) I started off the year at the fabulous Tin House Winter Workshop. It was held at the end of January 2014 in a small town called Sylvia Beach on the Oregon Coast.

Imagine going here…

The Sylvia Beach Hotel

The Sylvia Beach Hotel

Where each room is decorated for a different author…

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Dr. Seuss room

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Emily Dickenson room. I was worried the room might be haunted. But no ghosts appeared or disappeared.

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Mark Twain room. It had a fireplace and a terrific view. A workshop leader got this room. 😉

And this is your view every.single.day…

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And a super sweet cat roams the halls…and your room, if you let her (if cats are a no-go, you can just keep your door closed). But she is so smooshy and sweet…

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And learning the craft of writing from Whitney Otto (How to Make an American Quilt, Eight Girls Taking Pictures, Now You See Her), Vanessa Veselka (ZAZEN, The Truck Stop Killer in Best American Essays), and Jon Raymond (Rain Dragon, The Half-Life)…

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All hosted by the talented and gracious Tin House folks who also shared their insights on writing and publishing and karaoke…

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Lance welcoming us – not doing karaoke.

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You even get to see the Tin House office space where all the magic happens…

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Yes, you might just think you’ve done died and gone to writers heaven, where muses sprinkle glitter out of magic pencils and writers block has been abolished because it’s been deemed too cruel a punishment for the creative mind to endure. Ah, yes, heaven indeed.

Tin House accepted 18 writers for the workshop out of 200+ applications. (The great news is that this year there will be two workshops – one fiction, one non-fiction – so 36 spots.) Yes, lucky me. But the real message here is polish, polish, polish before you apply. And then maybe polish one more time. Then set it aside for 3 days, and polish again. Rinse, repeat. Then apply.

The workshop was three days – workshops in the morning, panels/craft lectures in the afternoon. Each workshop group had only 6 writers – yes, that is beyond fantastic! We critiqued two manuscripts in each session, so each writer got about an hour and a half of dedicated individual attention and every participant provided written feedback, as did the workshop leader. The writing was top-notch and the participants were careful readers who offered tremendous insight into each piece. (My workshop leader was Whitney Otto – she was a very wise choice.)

One of the real benefits of workshops is that you get to analyze writing that is not your own. I tend to learn at least as much from the discussion of other writers works as I do from the discussion of my own. I’m not invested in their writing the same way I am invested in my own story and can see it as it truly is, not as it was intended to be.

Because it happened to me (no one else, just me), I will share a little bitty lessons-learned with you. So, if you want, you can meet at the Tin House office (yes, please) and ride with the other workshop participants to the hotel. If I remember correctly, it’s just under 2 hours. You do not need a car while at the workshop so this is a really great option.

Unless, that is, unless, you are someone who might get a tad nauseous in a warmish van filled with excited writers journeying up a curvy mountain road.

Ahem.

Maybe that was me. Perhaps I should have sat in the front seat. Undoubtedly I should have taken dramamine or at least TUMS, before–yes before–I got nauseous.

I started feeling cruddy and rested my head on the seat in front of me and the other riders started to worry and asked repeatedly if I was ok, which was very nice but when I raised my head to answer…well, let’s just say that probably didn’t help. 😉 I thought I could make it–until I finally realized I simply.could.not.make.it.one.more.curvy.turn and asked the driver to pull over.

But he couldn’t do that immediately. What? I hear ya. Excuse me?

Well, you see, the road is narrow (and curvy) without much of a pull off shoulder because it happens to be on.the.side.of.a.mountain. and there.wasn’t.a.lot.of.room. Whatever. This is a case where poor planning on my part does happen to constitute an emergency on your part. So Sorry.

The good news is that the driver was able to pull over quickly enough and I was able to dash out to the back of the van and lighten my nauseous load. The bad news is that the editors from Tin House and the workshop coordinator were driving by us just as I got sick. So much for fabulous first impressions. Ergh.

The best part of the story is that we were about 2 miles from Sylvia Beach when I got sick. Two minutes longer and I could have totally saved face. Oh well. Luckily, we all laughed about it later. The Tin House folks are gracious people and let me live it down (relatively) quickly.

Back to the workshop. Did I mention it was fabulous? Well it was.

Here are a few tidbits from what we learned:

– Tin House is a top-tier literary magazine–wait, we knew that already–but they reinforced that belief over and over again. Even though they have every right to be literary snobs, the people who work there are approachable, talented, knowledgeable, and supportive.

– If you want to be published in a journal, get to know the magazine–support it by subscribing to it, reading it, and sharing it with your writing community. But most importantly, get to know what kind of stories they publish.

– Don’t worry about what the story is trying to mean – you’ll see that at the end. And if you are lucky it will mean different things to different people.

– Be careful that multiple POV characters aren’t just telling the same exact story over and over. Each POV must move the story forward and reveal something new.

– Writing should feel a little out of control and not too neat. You can write the life out of something and make it feel dead on the page.

– Most professional writers are very open to editing. Not being willing to edit something you’ve written might will make you look like an amateur.

– Authorative voice is what the writer takes with her from piece to piece. The story varies but the authority remains.

– Narrative voice is the charisma on the page.

– If a story feels stuck about 1/3 of the way through, the writer might be relying too heavily on voice.

– Fiction allows the writer to take something private and make it public.

– We also learned about the fabulous essay by Betty Flowers called Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process

At these types of workshops, books are always a big topic of discussion. Some of the book recommendations that came out of this workshop are (I’ve not read all of these, so I cannot testify to how good they are but these were some smart readers, so there you go)

Of course any of the books listed above by the workshop leaders
Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (one of my favorite books ever)
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan (very good)
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton
Telling by Marion Winik
Old School by Tobias Wolff
The Tenth of December by George Saunders

So there you have it – the Tin House Winter Workshop. Information about the 2015 workshop will be on the Tin House site sometime in September.  Tin House also hosts a summer workshop. Awesomesauce!

 

 

 

 

East meets West…………..

Lots and lots of people call India the land of extremes. Sometimes pictures explain it better than words.

This is a western woman buying t-shirts from some local Indian women in Goa. Goa is in southern India – the more conservative area of India. They did not agree on the prices and there was quite a discussion. I just sat amused as I watched East meet West. Notice how different their clothing is.

And then her friend came to help out.

Yes, I know, Sports Illustrated will not be hiring me as a swim suit model photographer any time soon. I think I was laughing too hard to properly focus. And please no comments on whether or not this woman should be wearing a thong. This post isn’t about her fashion choices. Believe me, there were worse fashion choices to be seen. I saw my first real-life man in a thong – nope, don’t e.v.e.r. need to see that again.

And then this lady gave it a try. I could not help imagine what the women were thinking as they walked away from each other.

The Rest of the Story (Singapore Style) …….

There were just a few other things we did in Singapore that we did that you might want to know about if you get a chance to go there.

Of course, there is the Hard Rock Cafe.

And there is a great beach at Sentosa Island. Bear even found a sand dollar. And the girls found some great shells.

One-fourth of all the world’s cargo goes through Singapore, so you can see a lot of big ships coming in and out of the port.

Singapore has a Chinatown that is very fun! And we thought expensive.

And Chinatown has a Hindu Temple.

And a Buddhist Temple.

This guy is watching you so behave yourself!

And Chinatown has lots of market shops with fun trinkets.

And this laughing budha who will give you well wishes if you rub his belly (and drop a coin in the slot).

The seahorses did not fare so well. Apparently they are used in soup.

This was bamboo something – it looked kind of like a bamboo jello jiggler. No, I did not try it. Next time.

There is a go-kart ride that goes down a pretty big hill. Lots of fun. Be careful doing this if your kids are at all competitive. It could end up costing a lot of money trying to let everyone win.

After the go-kart (luge) ride, you take a chair lift back up the hill. If you catch it at the right time, you will see this amazing view.

And what is a visit to an Asian city without a little monkey love?

And the dare devil adventure continues. Here is one of my Trapeze artists in the making.

Here is a little quiz for you – do you know what happens if you put a picture of one daughter on the flying trapeze for all the world (and her friends) to see and you do not put one of your other daughter? You pay for therapy for years. So, forget what the economists are recommending this is my own little version of savings. Angel taking a flip……

And this is the mega zip. You put on a harness, attach it to the cable, say a quick prayer, and zip down the mountain. This is a fabulous ride ladies – you actually have to weigh enough to do it. No skinny minnies here.

The whole way down I am thinking “I cannot believe I just strapped myself to a cable this high off the ground and trust that I am going to land safely. And I took my child with me.” When I landed, I thought, “that was really fun!”

You can also rent segues.

The trick is to lean forward enough – but not too far. Here is what I learned about riding segues – you really don’t want anyone taking your picture from the back. 😉

And there is a suspended obstacle course. Yeah sure, sign me up. You can choose to obstacle one, two, or three stories up. First floor for me and Angel. Hubby, Flower, and Bear – all the way to the top. The kids really enjoyed this. Hubby and I were very glad to have survived it.

Why does it look so high up you ask? Because it is.

And there is the night safari. Some people LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this. We could have skipped it and gone to the regular zoo instead. It’s at night and so it’s dark – I know, continue to be amazed by my deductive reasoning abilities. But it is hard to see the animals and many of them are still sleeping even though they are nocturnal. But seeing these guys dance around with fire was pretty full of awesomeness.

And the animal show was cute enough.

Especially when they wrapped this big-arse snake around my husband’s neck.

And forget a chicken in every pot. I am running for President and promising a 7-11 on every corner! Slurpees and all. Singapore 7-11’s even have a mashed potato fountain machine. They tasted a lot like KFC mashed potatoes which made Bear and Hubby very happy!